Thursday, July 25, 2024

A Small Review of Some Cisco Certification Materials

The first thing that I noticed when I opened the box containing these materials was the quality of what I had received. Anyone who has bought Microsoft Official Curriculum knows that, if you are lucky, you will receive paperback books and, if you are not lucky, you will receive your materials in a three ring binder (that you have to assemble!).

Now, before anyone says “What do you expect, you are paying for the information, not the way it is presented!”; I agree that I am paying for information, however, I have also used materials as reference long after any certifications were attained. In that respect, the Cisco Press books are really nice. These books are hardcover and meant to be around long after you pass your tests; not to mention they will be an invaluable reference down the road.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you which materials I am looking at. The first item that I opened was the Cisco Interactive Mentor covering Cisco Internetworking Basics. This is the first volume in a series of training tools. The Interactive Mentor is an online (online as in on a CD, not the internet), browser based study guide in addition to an interactive lab environment. The Interactive Mentor also includes Cisco operating system simulation software for you to use with your labs. I have not seen too many Cisco routers that I could afford to buy (to use in a lab environment), so this software is imperative to ensure success. I also received the Cisco CCNA Exam #640-507 Certification Guide. This is one of the hardcover books that I had mentioned earlier. Lastly, I received the Cisco BGP-4 Command and Configuration Handbook, another very nice hardcover book.

I know the CCNA is only one test, but do not let that give you the idea that it will be a breeze. I don’t know if you know this, but Cisco routers are intelligent; especially compared to most LAN equipment that you may have previously encountered (such as switches, bridges or hubs or even other routers). Any of you that are familiar with setting up a Linux box as a router will find that the command interface for Cisco routers is much more like that than most other equipment you may have been exposed to. With that in mind, don’t think that you can spend a weekend reading a book and then be able to run out and pass a CCNA test. That will not happen.

The Interactive Mentor CD begins with a six minute multimedia introduction to the materials and the five sections of study that comprise the course. One thing that I found very early on that I truly liked was how the interface handles acronyms and their respective definitions. When you come across an acronym, it will be highlighted, much like a hyper-link. If you are to click on the link a small popup comes up that gives a definition of the term. It will also have other links to more pertinent information which is very nice because you don’t have to spend so much time trying to find a definition of a term that you lose your place in your studies.

I found the information being presented in a very clear manner that was technical enough so that nothing was lost in the translation, yet in terms that were easily understood. Another really nice thing that Cisco does is to present the reader with a tiny (3 questions) quiz after every topic. By topic, I mean every few paragraphs. I have always been a big fan of quizzes and tests- you can read all that you want and it may or may not stick, but when I miss a question on a test or quiz and then research the answer, I have a much better chance of retaining that particular concept.

All in all, I am quite impressed with the CD. This goes against my better judgment because I have always preferred printed material, but I have found this material to be exactly as advertised.

If you have not tested for Cisco before, I highly recommend reading the Cisco CCNA Exam #640-507 Certification Guide. The first chapter of the book is dedicated to informing the reader of all of the requirements of the CCNA testing program. It covers what you should expect to see on the test. It also covers what differences you should expect to see between the Cisco tests and any other tests that you may have seen or taken. Also found in the first chapter is a good description of the hierarchy of Cisco certifications and some practical suggestions as to how to attain your goals in Cisco certification. This is a must read for anyone who is new to Cisco certifications.

I own in excess of 40 technical books by many reputable publishers, including but not limited to Sybex, Sam’s Publishing, Microsoft Press, and Que Publishing. By comparison, the Cisco Press materials that I have had the opportunity are some of the finest training and reference materials that I have seen. On a one to ten scale, I would give them a nine (only because I have never seen, in my humble opinion, any one resource that was worthy of a ten). Not only are the printed materials of the highest quality, these books have authors that are human. By this I mean that the reading, although not leisurely, is not so mucked up with technical jargon so as to make the reader more confused than when he/she started.

In all fairness, I feel as though I must mention that I do not own any ExamCram or “braindump” types of books. If this is how you prefer to study, I cannot offer an opinion of these nor a comparison to any other books because I have no experience with these types of materials. It is my opinion that you should be studying the material to learn how it will be beneficial to you in the real world, not simply so that you can pass a test.

Let me touch really quickly on the Cisco BGP-4 Command and Configuration Handbook. This is not a beginners book. This is not even an intermediary book. This is for someone who is pursuing their CCIE, the Holy Grail of Cisco certifications. For those of you who don’t know what BGP-4 is, it is a protocol, Border Gateway Protocol version 4. This is the protocol of the internet. Internet routers located at ISPs use this protocol to route the internet. All of you Linux/Unix people may have an advantage in this department as a free software implementation of BGP-4 is part of Gated.

In summary, I found these materials to be of excellent quality, not only in the material that is being presented, but the physical materials themselves. These are a must have for anyone pursuing Cisco certifications and will be a valuable resource long after the certification process is over.
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Jay Fougere is the IT manager for the Murdok network. He also writes occasional articles. If you have any IT questions, please direct them to Jay@

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